The window in the squad car scanned Inspector Allan’s retinas before taking him where he had to go. A child had been found lying in the snow. From the scuff marks around the body it was quickly determined that other kids had stood around whilst Gary was dying, but no one had called it in. Risk Street, where the boy was found, was off grid. An area marked by poorer quality glass three-storey housing projects that had lost their shine. Solar panels tended to stick and not to follow the sun. Sail-like parasols tended not to sail, or like their solar equivalents, store enough kinetic energy in the basement batteries to adequately light or heat the buildings. Initial forensic reports suggested that the boy had died of a heart attack. Inspector Allan’s superiors did what they always did and had a meeting about it. They couldn’t figure what scared a little boy so much that much that he died. The probability parameters of this happening naturally were less than one in 257 002, but what concerned them more was contagion and that it could happen to someone else. Someone that had a bit of leverage, someone that mattered. Inspector Allan, with his grey V-necked jumper, receding hairline, pot belly and the kind of nose that told its own story, fitted the profile of a man that could act as a bridge between these two worlds.
The squad car dropped him outside off grid BLOCK K2a and sped off. Inspector Allan was in luck, a woman wrapped in several layers of musty clothing and brightly coloured scarves, which made her seem younger, pushed the main door open allowing the policeman entry. The lift was out of order. Inspector Allan puffed and panted his way up to the eighth floor, where Gary Burn’s father, also called Gary, domiciled. He stood at a front door that didn’t swing open, unused to not being expected and processed, passing effortlessly through into someone else’s life.
Automatically he was informed the audio system built into the mixed concrete walls was off. He chapped on the letterbox and heard the slow shuffle of feet in the hall, but the lights that should have followed footfall did not kick in. The man that opened the door was forgettable, had the ability to recede into the distance like a memory, even though he was standing before him. He had a smattering of facial hair, and wore a sensible blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbow and trousers with practical pockets at the side, the kind favoured by an old-fashioned handyman. Inspector Allan knew from his records that the father of Gary Burns was younger than himself, but without being able to pay for bio-updates was much older.
‘What you wantin’ round here?’ asked Mr Burns. Watery hazel eyes focussed somewhere near Inspector Alan’s clean-shaven chin.
‘I’m a police officer Mr Burns,’ said Inspector Allan. Around his heart appeared a hologram showing a departmental badge. ‘Can I come in and have a word?’
Mr Burns nodded and took a step backwards. ‘I’ve not done anything that nobody else has done.’
Inspector Allan followed him up the hall and into the warm and brightly lit kitchen. The table was quaint, a type of natural wood difficult to get, well preserved it shimmered under the weight of food. Roast pork and large floury potatoes, a bowl of leaves, he wasn’t sure what they were, shredded red cabbage and carrot peeked out. There was enough food for two or more. The piggy caramelised juices and the smell of fresh butter infused with cinnamon had Inspector Allan licking his lips. It had been a long time since he’d felt hungry, and everything he ate tasted like dirt.
‘Tuck in,’ said Mr Burns, pulling a wooden chair back with a flourish and stepping aside to give Inspector Alan room to slide into the seat. ‘There’s enough for everyone. I’m just waiting for my boy to come in.’
Inspector Alan glanced around the room, the décor and fitting were years out of date, but functional. Mr Burns was indeed a handy man, making those old appliances work, but they needed lots of juice, lots of energy. Inspector Alan felt something, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He blinked. With digital eyes, the energy source was a little cheesy, a wire into a wall. It was immediately and automatically shut down. The oven fan stopped turning and the darkness like the inside of a storm drain made Mr Burns fidgety.
‘I suppose it was that bastard up the stairs that reported me,’ Mr Burns said, tucking his shirt in and fluffing it out. ‘He was always threatening to do it unless I gave him a cut of my credit slips.’ He stuck his pigeon chest out. ‘But I called his bluff. Said I’d a few things on him. But I never believed he’d go ahead and do it. Involve the state protectorate services. It seems crazy to me, but what do I know?’ He picked up a glass of milk from the table and sipped at it. ‘What’s going to happen now?’
Inspector Alan searched though his pocket. A docket had already been 3D-printed with Mr Burns name on it and giving him a court date and time to appear. He handed it to Mr Burns and watched him biting his chapped lips as he read it.
‘What if I can’t pay?’ Mr Burns asked.
‘The fine double and trebles.’
‘And what happens after that?’ Mr Burns sat hunched at the table, made smaller by the news. He already knew the answer and in the space between knowing and not knowing Inspector Alan slipped the knife.
‘I’m not here on surveillance about illegal energy use. I’m here about your son.’
The hind legs on the chair scraped against the floor. Mr Burns glared up at him. ‘What’s he done?’ He went to stand up, but Inspector Alan put a hand on his shoulder.
‘He hasn’t done anything, not as far as I know. But I’m sorry to say he’s had what looks like a heart attack and died.’
Mr Burns leaped up from the chair. ‘He can’t be dead. He’s only eight.’ His eyes darted to Inspector Alan’s face. ‘You can do anything nowadays. If it’s a matter of money, I’ll get it, no matter what. Honest, I’ll get it. Just show me what hospital he’s in…’